Kingdom of Singapura

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Kingdom of Singapura
Kerajaan Singapura

Location of  Kingdom of Singapura  (red)
Capital Singapura
Languages Old Malay
Religion Syncretic form of Hinduism, Buddhism and Animism; Islam
Government Monarchy
 •  1299–1347 Seri Teri Buana
 •  1347–1362 Seri Wikrama Wira
 •  1362–1375 Seri Rana Wikrama
 •  1375–1389 Seri Maharaja
 •  1389–1398 Iskandar Shah
 •  Founding of Temasek by Seri Teri Buana 1299
 •  Siege by Siam 1349
 •  Siege by Majapahit under Hayam Wuruk 1350
 •  Majapahit Invasion and escape of Iskandar Shah to the Malay Peninsula 1398
Currency Native gold and silver coins
Today part of  Singapore
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The Kingdom of Singapura (Malay: Kerajaan Singapura) was a historical Malay kingdom that existed on the island of Singapore from 1299 until its fall in 1398. Conventional historical view marks circa 1299 as the founding year of the kingdom by Seri Teri Buana, whose father is Sang Sapurba, the common great ancestor of most of the Malay monarchies in the Malay World. He claimed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great.[1][2][3]

In the 14th century, the settlement developed concurrently with the Pax Mongolica era and rose from a small Srivijayan trading outpost into a centre of international trade with strong ties with Yuan Dynasty. Its wealth and success however, alarmed two regional powers at that time, Ayuthaya from the north and Majapahit from the south. As a result, the kingdom's fortified capital was attacked by at least two major foreign invasions before it was finally sacked by the Majapahit in 1398.[4][5][6] The last king, Iskandar Shah fled to the west coast of Malay Peninsula to establish the Malacca Sultanate in 1400.


Singapura was known as Temasek before the arrival of Seri Teri Buana. It means 'Sea Town' in Old Javanese.

Legend has it that Seri Teri Buana and his men was on an exploration around the Malay Archipelago when they spotted an island with white sandy beach from a high point in Tanjong Bemban, Bintan. They set sail for the island, enduring rough storms, before finally landing at the beaches of Telok Blangah and went inland to hunt for wild animals. Suddenly, he saw a strange animal with an orange body, black head and a white neck breast. It was a fine-looking animal and moved with great speed as it disappeared into the jungle. He asked his chief minister, Demang Lebar Daun, what animal it was, and was told that it probably was a lion.

Seri Teri Buana was pleased with this as he believed it to be a good omen—a sign of good fortune coming his way. Thus, he decided to build his new kingdom in Temasek. He named the kingdom "Singapura". "Singa" meaning lion[7] and "Pura" meaning city in Malay.[8][9] The name thus means the "Lion City".


The series of raids launched by the Chola Empire in the 11th century had weakened the once glorious Malay empire of Srivijaya. By the end of the 13th century, the already fragmented Srivijaya caught the attention of the expansionist Javanese King, Kertanegara of Singhasari. In 1275, he decreed the Pamalayu expedition to overrun Sumatra. By 1288, Singhasari naval expeditionary forces successfully sacked Jambi and Palembang and brought Srivijaya to its knees. The complete destruction of Srivijaya caused the diaspora of the Srivijayan princes and nobles. Rebellions against the Javanese rule ensued and attempts were made by the fleeing Malay princes to revive the empire, which left the area of southern Sumatra in chaos and desolation.

In Srivijayan era, Temasek was a small trading outpost and primarily inhabited by Orang lauts. Historically, the Orang Laut were very loyal to the Malay kings. They patrolled the adjacent sea areas, repelling other petty pirates, directing traders to their Malay overlords' ports and maintaining those ports' dominance in the area.[10]

Seri Teri Buana[edit]

According to the Malay Annals, a fleeing Srivijayan prince named Seri Teri Buana, who claimed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great, took refuge in the island of Bintan for several years before he set sail and landed on Temasek in 1299.[11] The Orang Lauts, famous for their loyal services to Srivijaya, eventually made him a Raja ("king"). Seri Teri Buana renamed Temasek as "Singapura" and founded his capital around the mouth of the Singapore River. The area was suitable for a new settlement due to the nearby presence of a spring and a hill. The fresh water from a spring on the hill's slope served both as a bathing place for royalty and, at the base of a hill, a source of fresh water for the populace. The hill (modern-day Fort Canning hill) itself represented Mount Meru, the seat of the gods in Hindu-Buddhist mythology, which was associated with kingship and divinity in ancient Southeast Asian culture. Building a palace on a hill would have helped Seri Teri Buana to assert his role as a semi-divine ruler.[12]

In the early years of the kingdom, the Srivijayan tradition of seeking to establish diplomatic relations with China was continued by Seri Teri Buana when he began initiating a series of diplomatic overtures toward the Yuan court,[13] as this was vital for Singapura's recognition and security it needed to prosper. The king was officially recognized as a sovereign by an envoy of Yuan Emperor and was styled Sri Maharaja Sang Utama Parameswara Batara Sri Tri Buana (meaning: "Lord Central King Batara of "Sri Tri Buana" or 'Three world Realm'"), signifying his symbolic lordship over Palembang, Bintan and Singapura.[14] Within few decades, the small settlement grew into a thriving cosmopolitan city serving as a port of call for richly laden trade ships plying the pirate-infested waters of the Melaka Straits region. The Malay annals describes that supplies of workers, horses and elephants were sent from Bintan by the king's adoptive mother, Queen Paramisuri. This is in fact proven in Chinese record mentioning that in 1320, Chinese merchants purchased elephants from the island[which?].[15] In the 1330s, a Chinese traveler Wang Dayuan visited Singapura and wrote the account of his travel, Dao Yi Zhi Lue. He describes Singapura as comprising two settlements – "Banzu" (after the Malay word "pancur" or fresh-water spring), a peaceful trading port city under the rule of the King. The second settlement he describes as an area surrounding the "Long-ya-men" (an area which likely stretched from modern-day Keppel Bay south to northwestern side of Sentosa and west to what is today Labrador Park), which was occupied by ferocious pirates who launched frequent attacks on passing merchant ships. He also notes that Chinese traders lived there, "side by side with the natives". He also mentions some of the trade goods bartered in Singapura: red gold, cotton prints, blue satin, aromatic wood and fine hornbill casques.[16][17]

Seri Wikrama Wira[edit]

In 1347, Seri Teri Buana was succeeded by Seri Wikrama Wira. His reign marks the first attempt of the Siamese to subjugate the island kingdom. As recorded by Wang Dayuan in 1349, a Siamese fleet consisted of 70 junks descended upon the island kingdom. The heavily fortified city managed to withstand the siege of the Siamese until the fleet fleeing with the arrival of Chinese ships.[18] At the same time, the increasingly powerful Javanese kingdom of Majapahit, the successor of Singhasari, began eyeing the growing influence of the tiny island kingdom. Under the leadership of its ambitious warlord, Gajah Mada, Majapahit started to embark on overseas expansions against all kingdoms of Nusantara including the remnants of the Srivijaya. In 1350, Hayam Wuruk ascended to the throne of Majapahit. The new king sent an envoy to Singapura demanding the submission of the tiny kingdom. Wikrama Wira refused to do so and even sent a symbolic message threatening to shave the Majapahit king's head should he proceed to Singapura.[19] The furious Majapahit king ordered an invasion with a fleet of 180 main warships and innumerable small vessels. The fleet passed through the island of Bintan, from where the news spread to Singapura. The defenders immediately assembled 400 warships to face the invasion. Both sides clashed on the coast of Singapura in a battle that took place in three days. The Javanese soldiers, largely inexperienced in naval warfare, were completely overwhelmed and forced to flee.[20]

Seri Rana Wikrama[edit]

The victorious Seri Wikrama Wira died in 1362 and succeeded by his son, Seri Rana Wikrama. Despite the failure in the previous campaign, the Javanese chronicle Nagarakretagama list Singapura as a subject of Majapahit in 1365. During his reign, "Rana Wikrama" established a diplomatic ties with a Sumatran Muslim kingdom, Peureulak.[21] It was during this time also, a legendary man with an unusual strength, Badang, was said to have demonstrated his feat of strength in Rana Wikrama's court.

Seri Maharaja[edit]

Depiction of Malay warriors of ancient Singapura on a relief in Fort Canning Park, Singapore.

In 1368, the Yuan Dynasty was defeated in mainland China. While the new Ming Dynasty is consolidating its rule over China, Singapura lost the traditional Chinese patronage it needed in securing its position in the region. In 1375, Rana Wikrama was succeeded by his son Seri Maharaja. According to Malay Annals, the reign of Seri Maharaja was marked with the event of Todak (garfish) ravaging the coast of Singapura. A young boy, Hang Nadim, thought of an ingenious solution to fend off the todak. The king was initially grateful, but felt increasingly threatened by the boy's intelligence, and ordered to have the boy executed.

Iskandar Shah[edit]

In 1389, Paduka Seri Maharaja was succeeded by Iskandar Shah. Based on his peculiar Persian name and title, it is believed that Iskandar Shah was the first king of Singapura to embrace Islam which early evidences of its influence traced back to the reign of Rana Wikrama when he first established relationships with a Sumatran Muslim Kingdom, Peureulak.

As mentioned in the Malay annals, the story of the fall of Singapura and the flight of its last king begins with Iskandar Shah's accusation of one of his concubines of adultery. As punishment, the king had her stripped naked in public. In revenge, the concubine's father, Sang Rajuna Tapa who was also an official in Iskandar Shah's court, secretly sent a message to the king of Majapahit, pledging his support should the king choose to invade Singapura. In 1398, Majapahit dispatched a fleet of three hundred main warships and hundreds of smaller vessels, carrying no less than 200,000 men. Initially. the Javanese soldiers engaged with the defenders in a battle outside the fortress, before forcing them to retreat behind the walls. The invasion force laid a siege of the city and repeatedly tried to attack the fortress. However the fortress proved to be impregnable.[22][23][24]

After about a month passed, the food in the fortress began to run low and the defenders were on the verge of starvation. Sang Rajuna Tapa was then asked to distribute whatever grain left to the people from the royal store. Seeing this opportunity for revenge, the minister lied to the King, saying the stores were empty. The grains were not distributed and the people eventually starved. The final assault came when the gates were finally opened under the order of the treacherous minister. The Majapahit soldiers rushed into the fortress and a terrible massacre ensues.[25] According to the Malay Annals, "blood flowed like a river" and the red stains on the laterite soil of Singapore are said to be blood from that massacre.[26] Knowing that defeat was imminent, Iskandar Shah and his followers fled the island.


Malay Annals provides a well-defined hierarchical structure of Singapura, which was later partly adopted by its successor, Melaka. The highest hierarchical position was the Raja (king) as an absolute monarch. Next to the king were Orang Besar Berempat (four senior nobles) headed by a Bendahara (equivalent to a Grand Vizier) as the highest-ranking officer and the advisor to the King. He was then assisted by three other senior nobles based on the order of precedence namely; Perdana Menteri (prime minister), Penghulu Bendahari (chief of treasurer) and Hulubalang Besar (grand commander).

The Perdana Menteri assisted Bendahara in administrating the internal affairs of the kingdom and usually sit opposite to Bendahara in the royal court, while Penghulu Bendahari was responsible to the financial affairs of the kingdom.

The Hulubalang Besar acted as a chief of staff.of the army and commanded several other Hulubalangs (commanders), that in turn leading smaller military units. These four senior nobles were then assisted by other lower ranking officials titled Orang Besar Caterias, Sida Bentaras and Orang Kayas.[27]


14th-century gold armlets and rings in East Javanese style, found at Fort Canning Hill, Singapore, displayed in the Singapore History Gallery of the National Museum of Singapore

Scholars have found that Singapura's rise as a trade-post developed concurrently with the era known as Pax Mongolica or "Mongolian peace", where the Mongol influence over both the overland and maritime silk roads provided a context in which a new global trading system could develop. Previously, shipping occurred on a long-distance routes from the far east to India or even further west to the Arabian peninsula, which was relatively costly, risky and time-consuming. However, the new trading system involved the division of the maritime silk road into three segments: an Indian Ocean sector linking the Gulf of Aden and the Straits of Hormuz-based Arab traders to India, a Bay of Bengal sector linking the Indian ports with the Straits of Malacca and its associated ports including Singapura and the South China Sea sector linking Southeast Asia with Southern China.[28]

Singapura achieved its real power and fame due to its role as a port. It seems to fit as least in part the definition of a port of trade in which trade is less a function of the economy and more a function of government policy; thus trading would have been highly structured and institutionalized, with government agents playing key roles in port activities. Portuguese traders' account in particular, suggest that Singapura operated in such a manner. Reports from merchants of different countries also indicate that Singapura was a point of exchange, rather than a source for goods. Local products were limited in type and mainly consisted of tin, hornbill casques (an ivory-like part of the hornbill bird, which was valued for carved ornaments), some wooden items and cotton. Other commonly traded products included a variety of fabrics (cotton and satins), iron rods, iron pots, and porcelains. Chinese traders also reported that there were agricultural products but very few due to poor soil. Although these goods were also available from other Southeast Asian ports, those from Singapura were unique in terms of their quality. Singapura also acted as a gateway into the regional and international economic system for its immediate region. South Johor and the Riau Archipelago supplied products to Singapore for export elsewhere, while Singapura was the main source of foreign products to the region. Archaeological artefacts such as ceramics and glassware found in the Riau Archipelago evidence this. In addition, cotton was transshipped from Java or India through Singapura.[29]

The increase in activities by Chinese traders seems especially significant for Singapura and its trade. Various traders reported that, by this time, there was a permanent Chinese settlement in Singapore living peaceably with indigenous population. This could have made the port especially comfortable and desirable for Chinese traders.[30]


An artist's impression of Parameswara, the last king of Singapura.

After the sack of Singapura, the Majapahit army abandoned the city and returned to Java. The city left ruined, greatly depopulated and gradually lost its function as a trade port. The Majapahit victory against its vanquished foe marks a brief end of the centuries-old fierce rivalry[31] between the courts of Javanese and Malay in the region. This nevertheless was renewed few years later when the last king Iskandar Shah, founded his new stronghold on the mouth of Bertam river in the west coast of Malay peninsula. Within decades, the new city grew rapidly to become the capital of Melaka Sultanate and emerged as the primary base in continuing the historic struggles of Singapura and Srivijaya, against their Java-based nemeses. By the mid 15th century, Majapahit found itself unable to control the rising power of Melaka that began to gain effective control of Melaka straits and expands its influence to Sumatra. Singapura was also absorbed into its realm and once served as the fiefdom of Melakan Laksamana (or admiral).[32] As a major entrepot, Melaka attracted Muslim traders from various part of the world and became a centre of Islam, dissemanting the religion throughout the Maritime Southeast Asia. The expansion of Islam into the interiors of Java in 15th century led to the gradual decline of Hindu-Majapahit before it finally succumbed to the emerging local Muslim forces in the early 16th century. The period spanning from Melakan era right until the age of effective European colonisation, saw the domination of Malay-Muslim sultanates in trade and politics that eventually contributed to the Malayisation of the region.

Historical sources[edit]

There is basically only one record which give in some detail on the kingdoms of Singapura and Melaka - the Malay Annals written during the heyday of Melaka and re-compiled in 1612 by the Johor court. It is the basis for accounts of its founding, the succession of rulers and its decline. Another important record, the Suma Oriental written shortly after the Portuguese conquest of Melaka, briefly mentions about Singapura in relating it with the foundation of Melaka. Both Suma Oriental and Malay Annals do contain similar stories about a fleeing Srivijayan prince arrived in Singapura and about the last king of Singapura who fled to the west coast of Malay peninsula to found Melaka. However, both accounts diifer markedly when Suma Oriental identified the fleeing prince and the last king of Singapura as the same person known as "Parameswara". On the other hand, the more detailed Malay Annals identified the fleeing prince and the last king as completely two different persons separated by five generations. Suma Oriental noted further that the fleeing Srivijayan prince usurped the throne of Singapura from a Siamese viceroy named "Temagi" sometimes around the 1390s. However, this is refuted by the only Chinese first-hand account of 14th century Singapura, Dao Yi Zhi Lue written by Wang Dayuan, that explicitly mentioned that Singapura was ruled by local government.[33]

"... have the honour of mixing with those of ashes of Malayan kings ..."

— Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern-day Singapore, wrote in a letter about his death, and if he died in Singapore and were buried on the Fort Canning hill[34]

Historians are generally in doubt over the existence of the kingdom which much of its information obtained from the semi-historical text, Malay Annals. However, archaeological excavations on Fort Canning and its vicinity along the banks of the Singapore River since 1984 have confirmed the elliptical and fragmentary textual references to a thriving settlement and a trade port from the beginning of the 14th century, which an earlier generation of historians had queried the existence of. Remnants of a wall of significant size were found inland along present day Stamford Road, which according to certain scholars, unique to the region. Scholars have speculated that the inland position of the wall may indicates that it only served as a defense from a land-based invasion and that the residents must have had sufficient confidence in their naval prowess to fend off a frontal sea-based assault. In addition, excavations found evidence of structures built on what is now Fort Canning Hill, along with evidence of fruit orchards and terraces. Since ancient times in Southeast Asia, hills and mountains were associated with kingship and divinity. Thus, the hill that was only a little over a mile from the mouth of the Singapore River would be a logical place for the ruler to establish his residence, as suggested in the legends of the Malay Annals. The local lore when the British arrived in the early 1800s also supported the idea of a royal residence, with local people expressing unwillingness to go up on the hill, known to them as the forbidden hill, as it was the site of spirits. During excavations for the reservoir in the 1920s, items of gold jewelry were found, including rings, earrings, an arm band and what was likely a head ornament. Certainly these items would much more likely have been the possessions of a royal person than common people. Excavations by archaeologists in recent decades have found the remains of various ceramics, porcelain, and other objects at three different locations around the Singapore River and Fort Canning Hill. The Fort Canning Hill remains were of a higher quality than the others, offering further evidence that it was the residence of elites, as the old legends suggested. The records strongly support the notion that Singapore was a political center in the 1300s.[35]


  1. ^ Sabrizain
  2. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 19
  3. ^ Tsang & Perera 2011, p. 120
  4. ^ Tsang & Perera 2011, p. 120
  5. ^ Sabrizain
  6. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 19&24
  7. ^ Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka 2010
  8. ^ O'Mara 1999, p. 830
  9. ^ Commonwealth Secretariat 2004, p. 348
  10. ^ Heidhues 2001, p. 27
  11. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 18&19
  12. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 18
  13. ^ Ooi 2004, p. 1311
  14. ^ Buyers
  15. ^ Ooi 2009, p. 310
  16. ^ Taylor 2000, p. 199
  17. ^ Ooi 2004, p. 1311
  18. ^ Sabrizain
  19. ^ Leyden 1821, p. 52
  20. ^ A. Samad 1979, p. 47
  21. ^ Tsang & Perera 2011, p. 120
  22. ^ Tsang & Perera 2011, p. 120
  23. ^ Sabrizain
  24. ^ A. Samad 1979, pp. 69–70
  25. ^ A. Samad 1979, pp. 69–70
  26. ^ Windstedt 1938, p. 32
  27. ^ A. Samad 1979, pp. 44–45
  28. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 21
  29. ^ Heng 2005, pp. 12–16
  30. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 20
  31. ^ Liow 2004, p. 37
  32. ^ Sinha 2006, p. 1526
  33. ^ Taylor 2000, p. 199
  34. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 19
  35. ^ Abshire 2011, p. 19&20